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The Evolution of a pitch

Writing pitches is hard. Whether its for a query, for the back of a book, or for when I pitch to editors. I actually think it is the hardest when it is your own book, becuase you know it so intimately and there are so many details you want to put in and sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. Which is why I always, always, always recommend you brave a message board and post your query for critique.

Today, I'm going to share three pitches for VIRTUOSITY, a book written by one of my clients, Jessica Martinez. It's an absolutely beautiful debut novel, and Jessica is incredibly talented. (Side note: Jessica twitters and blogs. ) It hits shells Fall 2011 from Simon & Schuster!

We'll start with Jessica's query letter:

Dear Ms. Hubbard,
 
Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love.  Two weeks before the most important violin competition of her career, she has bigger things to worry about—like growing out of that suffocating “child prodigy” label, and not disappointing her mother.  But it isn’t just the wrong time.  It’s the wrong guy.  Jeremy is Carmen’s most talented rival, and according to her mother, he’s only interested in one thing: winning. 
 
He isn’t the only one. 
 
Carmen is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to control performance nerves.  But what started a year ago as an easy fix is now a hungry addiction.  Her mother insists now is not the time to quit, but Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of doing what she’s told.
 
In the end, [Redacted for spoiler reasons.....] 
 
VIRTUOSITY is a contemporary YA novel and is complete at 58,000 words.  It is my first novel.  I have degrees in English and Music from Brigham Young University, and I’m both a writer and professional violinist.  I read about your move to D4EO Literary Agency on the SCBWI website and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.   
 
Thank you for your time and consideration. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Jessica Martinez


First off, Jessica's first line is brilliant. You'll see below, that I used it in my pitch to editors, *And* it made it into the cover copy. In fact, her whole first paragraph is killer, which is why I kept it just as it is.

From there, I made some tweaks. Many times I do not use a thing from my client's query letter, but her pitch was well on its way. I just wanted it to focus a little more on the romance and a little less on violin and her mother. Here's the pitch i used:

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love.  Two weeks before the most important violin competition of her career, she has bigger things to worry about—like growing out of that suffocating “child prodigy” label, and not disappointing her mother. 

 

But it isn’t just the wrong time.  It’s the wrong guy.  Jeremy King is infuriating, arrogant, and the only one who could possibly beat her in the prestigious Guarneri competition.

 

Carmen is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to control performance nerves, but what started a year ago as an easy fix is now a hungry addiction, and it seems as if every day Carmen has to take one more pill than she took before.  Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of doing what she’s told.

 

The closer the Guarneri creeps, the further Carmen falls, and the more desperate her mother gets to keep Carmen from throwing it all away for love. When her mother [Slightly spoilery line].
 

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall.


So, you can see that I injected a little more Jeremy, but still used a great line from Jessica's query-- "What started a year ago as an easy fix is now a hungry addiction...." . The last two paragraphs are entirely my own, swapping out Jessica's spoilery paragraph(s) for something punchier. I also wanted to end with a bang, hence the final line in the pitch.

Finally, here's the current cover copy created by Simon Pulse:

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen's whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn't just hot...what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can't end well, but she just can't stay away.  Nobody else understands her--and riles her up--like he does. Still, she can't trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what's expected.


Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall....

As you can see, Pulse took what we had and simply kicked it up a notch, with punchier verbage and a greater focus on the romantic conflict.

All three of these pitches work. I eagerly requested VIRTUOSITY when the query arrived in my inbox. And when I sent my pitch out, it was requested by all who read it. There are many ways to pitch things, and as long as you're getting a reasonable request rate, chances are you've got a solid query. But sometimes punching it up another notch will just increase your chances and request rates. So it is well worth it to spend a little extra effort at perfecting it.


Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Gina Masone Ciocca
Oct. 28th, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
Getting the Pitch Right
Hi Mandy,

Having just finished my own query, I can appreciate how great this one is. There is just one thing holding me back from querying and it's not the content of the letter, it's the genre. My story is about two girls, one of whom is dead, falling for the same person. To me, it feels like young adult, but my protagonist is a college student. I know this is considered old for YA, but it feels wrong to call a book about college age kids a "paranormal romance" and leave it at that, especially when I wrote it with the YA crowd in mind. Can a detail like this completely ruin a query?
mandyhubbard
Oct. 28th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Getting the Pitch Right
Well, you have to decide which one it is. You can age them down and make it a YA paranormal romance, or you can make sure the content/voice/tone works for adults and then yes, its simply a paranormal romance.

As long as the voice/content works for adults, there's nothing wrong with querying it as a paranormal romance.
Vonna Carter
Oct. 28th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
This was a great comparison. It was interesting to see how the details that changed made such a difference each time. The final one really plays up the romance which makes her secret even juicier.
acasile
Oct. 28th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
Wow! What a great post! It not only helps with query writing, but also opens up the whole pitch process! Maybe I'm naive, but I didn't realize how similar agent pitches are to writers' queries!
rabbithigh
Oct. 28th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Wow, I loved all three pitches and it was interesting to see what was tweaked and how it got better.
Looking forward to VIRTUOSITY release :D
sachaw
Oct. 28th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
I love behind the scenes details - thanks for posting!
ext_302035
Oct. 29th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
From query to cover. It's cool to read how a pitch can be tweaked to convey a different feel. I can't wait to read this book now. ;) Thanks for sharing!
(Anonymous)
Oct. 31st, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
It's amaznig how much of the original query made it to cover. Sign of an excellent query! Congrats Jessica!
katrinangel
Nov. 2nd, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
Is it bad that I like her query the best? Your pitch was awesome, too!

Maybe it's just that I feel the query tells more of the story with less teasing. But I guess pitching is also about teasing (plus you omitted spoilerific lines).

Thanks for this awesome comparison! It was really cool to see an example of the pitch process!
jlmarti
Nov. 3rd, 2010 01:54 am (UTC)
Thanks Mandy! It's so much fun to see all three together. I have to say though, it's still surreal to read a pitch of VIRTUOSITY that somebody else wrote. I'm lucky it's in such capable hands, both with you and Simon Pulse.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
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